This past semester, my class of student veterans at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point joined forces with The Veteran Print Project and an advanced printmaking class at our university to produce fine art prints based on my students’ stories of military service, war, and coming home. I’ll be sharing pictures from the big reveal we had in May, as well as the artists’ statements and the work they produced.
I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that this was a tremendous opportunity for everyone to better connect, for my students to share their stories, and for the artists to create meaningful work on truly profound topics. Tolstoy said that the purpose of art was to provide a bridge of empathy between the artist and others. We took that concept one step further. By sharing their stories, my students connected with their artists, eliciting empathy and a better understanding. The artist then illustrated what they discovered for you, the viewer. The veteran then had the amazing opportunity to bear witness to their own stories and to see the ways in which their illustrated stories affected other viewers.
I hope that the work you see here will transform the way you think about war and veterans — I know it has for me.
Artist Statement, Mark Brueggeman:
I met Leon Valliere USN at 11:30 May 14, 2015 in the Printmaking studio in the Noel Fine Arts Center. Over the course of our next three meetings, we talked about being in the Navy, being an Ojibwei, being commanded, being in command, being a student and all of the identities involved in moving from world to world. I felt that I was talking to a man who had watched his life move from sphere to sphere.
I developed Family Embraces Family Embraces Family . . . in response to Leon’s recounting of experiences and revealing of himself. This image started as a simple face-front portrait and then I began visualizing his nuclear family behind him, with his native American family behind him, with his naval family behind him, with his university family behind him. I addressed his native American heritage with the Thunderbird tattoo he had chosen to wear. His Navy career on both land and sea with an image of the Polynesian tattoo of a squid/octopus that he wears. These two tattoos are the upper left corner and lower right corner of the print and embracing the family Leon recognizes and the constant enlargement and adoption of additional members and worlds he acknowledges. The blue/black ink is a simple reference to the Navy camo in a picture of Leon that I saw.